By Rachel Swan
The Oakland City Council voted Tuesday to pay $340,000 to community organizations that would help the city enforce its minimum-wage and tenant-protection laws — if Oakland’s administration can come up with the money.
Councilwomen Rebecca Kaplan and Desley Brooks pushed for the budget amendment, which they said will help alleviate widespread wage theft and evictions in Oakland. Brooks and Kaplan had originally proposed spending $1 million to address social disparities in the city, but reduced that amount after Budget Director Kiran Bawa said in a staff report that Oakland doesn’t have that much money to spare.
The revised motion, which asked for funding on the condition that new revenue becomes available, passed by a 7-0 vote, with Councilman Larry Reid absent. The city will choose the community groups later.
Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney, who spoke in favor of the budget amendment, said it still wouldn’t be enough to combat displacement in Oakland, where median rents climbed to $2,650 in August, according to the real estate site Zillow — up from $1,921 in August 2013.
“Clearly we are in a crisis,” McElhaney said.
Dozens of union and tenant organizers showed up to support the plan at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, arguing that Oakland’s city departments aren’t adequately staffed to enforce the minimum-wage law and fight illegal evictions.
Some argued, further, that Oakland’s paucity of bilingual employees prevents the city from helping low-wage workers and tenants who don’t speak English. Nonprofit groups are better equipped to counsel those residents and help them file complaints, said Teresa Cheng of the labor group Unite Here.
“It’s important we have community-based enforcement (by) organizations that workers know and trust, who speak their languages,” Cheng said.
At least one city employee said she’d gladly accept the help.
“Having additional resources … especially in the non-English-speaking, monolingual worker communities would no doubt assist the workers who are intended to benefit from the minimum wage law,” Deborah Lusk-Barnes, director of Oakland’s contracts and compliance department, said in an e-mail.
Kaplan called the scaled-down plan a “significant compromise” at the council meeting Tuesday, but said it would still protect many people from losing their homes.
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